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Killer spared the gallows as factors weighed in his favour: Judge

Killer spared the gallows as factors weighed in his favour: Judge

Source: Straits Times
Article Date: 15 May 2020
Author: K.C. Vijayan

Justice Aedit Abdullah found several factors that "weighed against sentencing Toh to the gallows", he wrote in judgment grounds on Monday to explain his decision.

In 2016, a rag-and-bone man knifed a coffee shop helper to death while they were fighting.

In February this year, High Court Judge Aedit Abdullah found Toh Sia Guan, now 68, guilty of murder under Section 300(c) of the Penal Code. The punishment was either death or life imprisonment.

But Justice Aedit found several factors that "weighed against sentencing Toh to the gallows", he wrote in judgment grounds on Monday to explain his decision.

He had sentenced Toh in March to life imprisonment for fatally stabbing 52-year-old Goh Eng Thiam on July 9, 2016.

Toh had stopped outside a coffee shop in Geylang Lorong 23 where Mr Goh was eating breakfast.

When he asked Mr Goh if he was selling Chinese medicine, the victim swore at him and a fight ensued. Toh then left to buy a knife.

He came back, they fought again and Mr Goh was stabbed multiple times in his upper body, including his right upper arm, which proved fatal. He also had injuries on his face and fingers. Toh fled but was nabbed 12 days later.

"The cumulative effect of the separate pieces of evidence proved beyond a reasonable doubt that the fatal injury was caused by the accused, and that he did so intentionally," said Justice Aedit in finding Toh guilty after his trial last August.

The judge also said Toh's testimony was outweighed by the objective evidence, like the manner of the stab wounds and his conduct.

Toh's lawyers Wong Seow Pin and Dew Wong Li-Yen urged the judge to spare him the gallows, saying he did not manifest a blatant disregard for human life, nor was he so vicious as to outrage the feelings of the community.

The fatal injury was a single stab wound inflicted during the fight, which pitted the accused against a younger, stronger and more aggressive opponent, they added.

The "gruesomeness of the scene should not affect the outcome", they argued, noting that Toh has low IQ. They further pointed out the prosecution, led by DPP Eugene Lee, was not seeking the death penalty.

Justice Aedit accepted that Toh did not know the injury was fatal, either during or after the attack, and this showed no blatant disregard for human life.

He also noted, unlike the 2015 case of Kho Jabing who was sentenced to death, it was not proven that Toh had intended for the victim to suffer as much as possible, or that he inflicted unnecessary blows even after Mr Goh had stopped reacting.

"The stabs were inflicted whilst the deceased was still alive and retaliating. The fight lasted only about two minutes," the judge said.

Toh also did not show "the high degree of premeditation and planning, which was a factor supporting the death penalty" as in the 2018 case of Chia Kee Chen that the judge cited.

Justice Aedit made clear the framework for the exercise of sentencing discretion under the Penal Code's Section 302(2) has been set out by a line of Court of Appeal cases.

"In essence, the death penalty is warranted where the actions of the offender outrage the feelings of the community, such as by exhibiting viciousness or a blatant disregard for human life.

"It is the manner in which the offender acted which takes centre stage," he added. "The death penalty was not called for in the circumstances here."

Source: Straits Times © Singapore Press Holdings Ltd. Permission required for reproduction.

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